The Linux Setup – Terrence O’Brien, Engadget

I suspected Terrence O’Brien was a Linux user when I started noticing he seemed to be behind just about all of Engadget’s Linux coverage. It turns out I was right about Terrence. Not only that, he gets a lot of work done through his Ubuntu setup. Also, his dream setup is pretty great. I think I’m stealing it for my dream.

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  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I’m an associate editor at Engadget and former senior contributor to I’m also an avid outdoorsman, nerd from birth and serial hobbyist.

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    Ubuntu. My first exposure to Linux was through Red Hat, which my father brought home since he had to learn it for his job. But, let’s just say things did not go smoothly. It wasn’t until years later, when I was trying to milk the last bit of life out of my almost six-year-old ThinkPad 600X that I decided to give Linux another shot. That was back in 2005, and the new hot distro on the scene was a rather ugly thing slathered in brown with an alliterative code name. That, much like my introduction via Red Hat, was also a rough experience — but, oddly, I was hooked. Since that day Ubuntu has not only been my Linux distro of choice, but my primary OS.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    Mostly the browser. I jump back and forth between Firefox and Chrome quite often, though I primarily use Firefox for work. Otherwise I don’t use too many apps on a daily basis. I fire up Empathy for instant messaging, XChat for IRC and obsessively watch Twitter in Polly. I do most of my actual composing in Focus Writer, while GIMP, Shutter, and Phatch are the backbone of my imaging arsenal. The two most indispensable weapons in my toolbox are AutoKey and Dropbox, however. Without them my job would border on impossible. The only major gaps I’ve found in my software needs are a solid note taking app and a video editing tool. Tomboy is nice but, without a viable mobile and web client, it’s out of the running for me. And all of the Linux video editing suites I’ve tried have made me want to pull my hair out.

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    I have two different machines that I split my time between. My personal laptop is a ThinkPad X200 with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 8 GB of RAM and the extended 9 cell battery that’s supposed to net me up to nine hours of use, though, In reality, it only lasts about three. That machine also boots to Windows 7 professional. My work laptop is a 13-inch MacBook Pro, which sports only 4GB of RAM, but does boast a Core i7-2620M. Four 2.7GHz cores is kind of overkill for most of my daily tasks, though they come in handy when I have to boot into Snow Leopard to edit video.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    Well, after seeing Ubuntu for Android on video it might be that. But, barring a magical phone that can accomplish all of my daily computing tasks, I’d settle for something that looks like a MacBook Air, has the keyboard of ThinkPad and can power a pair of external monitors when dropped in a docking station. On the software front I’d love to see better integration with the endless piles of top notch webapps out there. I think part of the growing interest in Linux is largely thanks to the fact that we’re spending more and more of our time inside a browser and relying less and less on desktop apps. The fact that I can’t set Gmail as my default mail client without installing an extra piece of software or some advanced tweaking is ridiculous. Oh, I also want it to be beautiful and stable.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Of course! Not much to see here. Before the introduction of Unity I used to spend a lot of time customizing my desktop — whipping up complex Conky setups, swapping out icons, etc… But, when the new theme was introduced in Lucid Lynx I started tweaking less and less until, with the debut Unity in Natty, I started just accepting the default setup. The only real tweaks I still feel the need to make are to the shortcuts and the wallpaper. I’m a big fan of hot corners so I set the top right to initiate the window picker, while bottom right launches the workspace switcher. I also generally edit any wallpapers to match the aubergine, orange and gray color scheme of Ambiance.

Terrence O'Brien's desktop

Interview conducted February 22, 2012

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

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